A joke in bad taste about Hollywood and its alleged lax morals goes something like this: “Ques: What’s the definition of a Hollywood virgin? Ans: An ugly fourteen year old.” A sly reference to its Polanski notoriety.
So, when even Hollywood was shocked by the rumours of noted Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman’s affair and impending marriage, it took more than the usual amount of PR and spin doctoring to douse the fire. Because Morgan, 72, was rumoured to be dating his 27-year-old step-granddaughter, who he’d been allegedly carrying on an affair with for the past decade!
It all began in 2009, when the National Enquirer reported that the actor had been involved in a relationship with his step-granddaughter, E’Dena Hines, for 10 years. A family insider allegedly told the newspaper that the pair’s relationship blossomed shortly after they almost had a sexual encounter. The Enquirer claimed that Morgan’s second wife had begun divorce proceedings against him on learning that he was involved in an inappropriate relationship with Hines, the granddaughter of his first wife, who, though not related to him by blood, was technically the daughter of his adoptive step-daughter and who he had raised from when she was a child.
The last time such a scandal consumed Hollywood was when director Woody Allen married Soon-Yi, the adoptive daughter of his ex-lover Mia Farrow.
It was said that Farrow separated from Allen, the man she’d been involved with for 12 years and in whose films she had starred in, after she discovered nude photographs that Allen had taken of the then 20-year-old Soon-Yi. To make matters worse, during the long and public battle for their three children (two adopted and one biological), Farrow alleged that Allen had sexually molested their adopted daughter, Dylan, who was then seven years old.
Though the dictionary defines incest as sexual relations between people classed as being too closely related to marry each other and the crime of having sexual intercourse with a parent, child, sibling, or grandchild, the broader and more acceptable definition of the term refers to sexual activities between: individuals of close “blood relationship”; members of the same household; step relatives related by adoption or marriage; and members of the same clan or lineage.
The taboo of incest is one of the most widespread, spanning cultures and centuries. And though it is nuanced — in ancient Greece, brothers and sisters often married each other, and in countries like the Netherlands, Spain, France, Turkey and Israel, there is no legal proscription against consensual incest between adults —, some form of prohibition against incest exists in most societies and in many ways it remains the last frontier of human taboo.
To be sure incest is this generation’s “love that dare not speak its name” and nothing demonstrates this more than our fascination with it and the sudden spate of incest-based themes in high and popular culture.
From comics such as the Planetary comic book series and graphic novels like Lost Girls to Japanese manga such as Osamu Tezuka’s Ayako, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things to Hollywood films like A Thousand Acres, Eve’s Bayou, U-Turn, The Devil’s Advocate, The Sweet Hereafter, Cold Around the Heart, The Locusts and The House of Yes, incest appears to be the flavour of the season.
John Ridley, who wrote the screenplays for both U-Turn and the upcoming Cold Around the Heart, is quoted as having said, “Now that movies about same-sex relationships and interracial relationships don’t have as much of an impact, Hollywood is looking for something new to sort of push the envelope.”
To be sure one of the most iconic scenes in recent movie history was the one from Chinatown where a run-down Faye Dunaway, explaining her relationship with a young woman, repeats, “She’s my daughter. She’s my sister. She’s my daughter and my sister.”
But however much audiences are titillated and at the same time horrified by thoughts of incest, it remains a subject beyond the pale of what is considered acceptable in public life.
For the record, stung by public outrage, Freeman issued a strong denial of his alleged affair with his step-granddaughter last month. “The recent reports of any pending marriage or romantic relationship of me to anyone are defamatory fabrications from the tabloid media designed to sell papers,” Freeman told the site. “What is even more alarming is that these fabrications are now being picked up by the legitimate press as well.”
Meanwhile, Allen has been married to Soon-Yi for over a decade and has even adopted a child with her. “What was the scandal? I fell in love with this girl, married her. We have been married for almost 15 years now,” he is reported to have said.
It takes all kinds!